Faridkot, or not?

December 2, 2008

While the Indian government continues to maintain that the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were the work of militants trained by the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba, evidence mounts which questions that narrative. There are still no grounds for drawing firm conclusions about who stormed Mumbai last week, or why they did so.

The Hindu newspaper seems to have become the conduit of choice for information leaked from the “interrogation” of captured terrorist suspect Ajmal Amir Kasab. A few days ago, it was the venerable Hindu which carried a statement purportedly from a group called the Mujahideen Hyderabad Deccan. This statement promised a wave of atrocities in response to Hindu actions since 1948 while calling fora separate muslim homeland in the Hyderabad Deccan.

That statement appeared highly dubious from the outset. As the Hindu reported, “a series of spelling errors mar the Hindi-language text, typed in the Devnagari script” while the term “Hyderabad Deccan” is not commonly used any more in India. The paper suggested that it had been compiled using voice recognition software. Strangely, its correspondent Parveen Swami declined to consider that it was simply written by a poor student of Hindi.

The same correspondent is now being used to leak another key document by Indian intelligence services. Swami’s latest dispatch provides an official narrative of Kasab’s life in great detail, but it is immediately being questioned by journalists working in Pakistan.

Swami’s account, entitled “a journey into Lashkar” suggests that Kasab left his home village of Faridkot at the age of 13, moving to Lahore due to the poverty of his parents. He then “shuttled between the homes of his brother and parents” before moving more permanently to Lahore “determined never to return.” After finding work as a laborer “degrading,” the would-be militant “soon began spending time with small-time criminals.”

In mid 2007, Kasab and a friend ran into members of Lashkar-e-Toiba in Rawalpindi. Swami’s sources tell us that “both men decided to join — not because of their Islamist convictions but in the hope that the jihad training they would receive would further their future life in crime.” While at a Lashkar training camp, Swami muses that “the atmosphere of the camp gave him the sense of family he had lacked for much of his life.”

After his training with Lashkar, Kasab reportedly returned home – to Faridkot – where “he found a respectability within his community and family that had eluded him most of his life… Where Iman had earlier been seen as a burden, he was now self-sufficient — and bore the halo of religious piety.”

Then, after being selected due to his piety, he was sent to train in “marine commando and navigation” techniques. As the day of attack approached, Swami relates, “Lashkar military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi promised that his family would be rewarded with Rs. 1.5 lakh for his sacrifice.”

This account, which Swami has gleaned from “police investigators” is surprisingly detailed, coming as it does from a severely injured terrorist suspect so soon after his capture. It is also apparently completely mistaken, if accounts from Faridkot are to be believed.

Saeed Shah has been in the area covering the story for numerous outlets around the world. As he writes for the Guardian today, “A sleepy village in Pakistan has found itself at the centre of the Mumbai terror plot, leaving locals bewildered.” Despite days of intense questioning by journalists and intelligence services, the people of Faridkot are confused. “There are no jihadis here,” said Ijaz Ahmed, 41. “I can think of maybe 10 or 20 people here who have even been as far as Multan.”

Residents of Faridkot, from the BBC

Residents of Faridkot, from the BBC

As Shah reports, while Kasab is supposed to have spoken fluent English, “In Faridkot, no one appeared to be able to speak much English.” Moreover, “None of the villagers recognised the face in the photograph.”

Swami’s sources tell us that Kasab went back to Faridkot and enjoyed “respectability,” yet no-one seems to have heard of him. Being from a deeply impoverished and uneducated background – as late as 2007 – his progress in learning English is astounding, or somewhat hard to believe.

In truth, Faridkot appears to be unfairly villified. As the BBC reports, “A local and his friends are willing to talk, although they are a little jaded by the questions…”We are all hardworking, honest people here,” says Mohammad Ilyas Khan, a local farmer…”People in the village rarely leave and that is only for occasional work or business trips.” Ilyas also told the BBC that “There were three Ajmals in the village, and none of them fits the description of the man the media has named.”

It certainly doesn’t seem like a terrorist hotbed. As Dawn newspaper reports, “Faridkot in Khanewal, also known as Chak No 90/10-R, is a hamlet on the Jahanian Road, 53km from Multan and has a population of 5,000. This village has one primary school and two mosques — one managed by Barelvis and the other by Shias — and is known for sectarian harmony.”

A lotof weight is being carried by the narrative coming out of Kasab’s interrogation, yet not a single detail released by Indian intelligence officials can be believed. The ATS is mutilated, and confused. As its assistance commissioner, Mohan Kulkarni told reporters yesterday, “We miss [Kerkare]. We are not in a mental state to accept that he is no longer with us.” It is supposed to be interrogating the alleged killer of its respected chief.

It is is much more likely that other agencies have taken over the interrogation and are spinning the narrative to suit their particular ends.

Other news

Other pieces of information have come to light in the past few days, and that are being unreported. There is more evidence that slain ATS chief Hemant Karkare was under extreme stress and feared for his life before the attacks, evidence that far-right Hindutva parties and groups will be anxious to bury. As Daily News & Analysis reports, on the night of his death, Karkare “had pleaded with [Maharashtra] state home minister RR Patil to move him to some other department” while “At one point during the meeting, he went to the extent of saying he wanted to quit the service.”

“Karkare gave vent to his emotions at a meeting the ATS team had with Patil, which ended around 9 pm that fateful night on Wednesday. Karkare told the minister he was fed up of working in the squad after the political pressure the team faced in the Malegaon blast investigation.” While driving home, he purportedly heard news of the attack on the train station, and headed over to deal with it.

Karkare was working on the prosecution of several Hindutva activists for bomb blasts in the town of Malegaon. The prosecutor in that case, Rohini Salian (who has also received death threats) says that “On the fateful Wednesday, Karkare was discussing the case with me and today he is no more.” According to the Times of India the prosecutor then “made a statement without any elaboration that “all forces are against us.”

We do not know whether Karkare was summoned to see Patil, who has since been forced to resign, to account for his actions, or whether the ATS chief went of his own accord to request a transfer. We know that he was summoned to New Delhi a few days before to discuss the case with India’s national security adviser, who has also since resigned. It is possible that Congress Party officials were keen to channel the investigation away from sensitive topics, such as the Haywood case involving American nationals.

In other, other news, one other piece of evidence has come to light regarding the employees of Mumbai’s luxury hotels. While it is thought that the Oberoi chain of hotels is associated with Mumbai criminal kingpin Arun Gawli’s “union,” the Taj Mahal Palace has been linked to the far-right Hindutva Shiv Sena party. As Bloomberg reported on 29 November:

Twenty-four hours after the siege ended, police and Rapid Action Force personnel were planning to hand over the [Taj Mahal] hotel to its management after re-checking rooms for explosives…Suryakant Mahadik, a deputy leader of the Shiv Sena political party, which has the hotel employees union under its affiliation, said he expects the Trident hotel to open within a week. “The Oberoi will take longer,” he said.

This is potentially important. Firstly, the attackers of the Oberoi and Taj are thought to have stashed large quantities of weapons in both hotels, and to have worked in them to gain expert knowledge of their workings. If they did so under the protection of a far-right Hindutva group, this raises questions about Shiv Sena’s complicity in the attacks. Secondly, the professionalism of the hotel employees, in hiding and feeding guests, is noteworthy. It is possible that some staff were prepared for the attacks, although this is highly speculative.

What is not speculative is that Shiv Sena has benefited from the attacks and is on the offensive with provincial and general elections approaching. MK Badrakumar of the Asia Times puts it well, arguing that “While the Indian left parties have set aside their recent acrimonious differences with the government and called for “national unity”, right-wing politicians do not feel the impetus to do so when they sense the chances of their being catapulted into power on a nationalistic wave of popular outrage.”

Bal Thackeray, the SS leader has called immediately for fresh polls in Maharashtra and India as a whole. One SS MP, Sanay Raut, has reportedly called for all Pakistani performers to be banned from Mumbai telling the IANS that “it had always been the Sena’s policy to discourage any kind of interaction between Pakistanis and Indians.”

The right-wing is seeing the culmination of a process of polarisation. A series of terrorist attacks has provided an opening for the BJP and associated parties to return to power, after being defeated in 2004. As journalist Somni Sengupta has written, “Terrorism may be grievously relevant to the fortunes of the ruling party, under whose watch Indian cities have suffered a string of attacks — six of them in six months, killing roughly 375 people in all. After each one, the prime minister has issued a sobering statement calling for calm. After each one, the B.J.P. has pounced on the government as being soft on terrorism.”

The future does not look bright for India.


One Response to “Faridkot, or not?”

  1. I actually enjoyed reading this post.Thank you.

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